Shanghai – A City of Smog

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This was my first trip to Asia and I’d heard all sorts of stories about people not waiting in line, how crowded Shanghai is, and chaotic traffic. I was going to Shanghai for work and spent the first four days in Pudong New Area and the next six in a hotel near the Bund.

A lot of what I’d heard turned out to be true but there are also many other things I wish I’d been told before I left for Shanghai. That it was so polluted while I was there that I couldn’t go on the riverboat cruise because that would be being outside for too long. It turns out that a good day in Shanghai is five times more polluted than the worst day of the year in Los Angeles. It’s pollution that when I tell people about at home. it seems unfathomable to them.

I wish I had been told how much time I would spend being lost because there is no one to ask for directions. And also what great finds there are in Shanghai when hours later you do find what you’re looking for!

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Above is a scale model of the city of Shanghai at the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Centre. It is incredibly large as a city of 23 million people and growing all the time.

I started my trip on the Pudong side of the Huangpu River, an area that thirty years ago was farmland and now is packed with skyscrapers. Pictures of the Shanghai skyline are taken from the Puxi side looking at Pudong. The amount of building that has occurred and is still happening is incredible but in many ways, besides the signs being in Mandarin, Pudong New Area seemed just like every other major city in the world, full of concrete and North American stores.

It wasn’t until I saw the Old City that I saw traditional Chinese architecture and something vastly different from a city of concrete.

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The intricate stone work from centuries ago is so impressive! Most of the Old City is full of small shops all selling some assortment of silk, cashmere, pearls, jade, tea or tea sets. But in Yuyuan Garden, you can still see the skyscrapers and hear the traffic but it’s an escape from the hustle of a quickly westernizing city.

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The last thing that really surprised me about Shanghai was that there was laundry drying EVERYWHERE! Sometimes you’d walk past a corner and someone had tied a rope between two hydro poles and left their laundry there to dry. Once, I walked past a school yard and there was a hanger with a pair of pants on it hanging from the basketball court!

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My (just under) two weeks in Shanghai were an unforgettable experience that I am extremely appreciative to have had.

Would I go back? Would I recommend you take a trip there? My opinion is that if I am going to spend that much money and time to get somewhere, there is a list of other places I would like to go first. Having said that, I only saw Shanghai and during one of the worst polluted times the city has seen so my experience is narrow.

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